By Thomas Dodd
- Lewis Hamilton wins his fifth Grand Prix of 2017 to close gap in title to race to Sebastian Vettel to seven points
- Ferrari’s Vettel finishes second, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo behind in third.
- Race at Spa was the first back after a four-week summer break, with the Italian Grand Prix up next at Monza next weekend.
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, BELGIUM – Lewis Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher‘s record pole tally of 68, 25 years after the German great’s first win at the Belgian track, but what else can we take away from round twelve of the 2017 F1 World Championship?
Hamilton, Vettel and a safety car are a dangerous mix
After the debacle in Baku earlier on in the season, there were naturally a few wry grins as the safety car came out in the final stages to lead round Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel while excess debris was cleared from the track. The Briton did his best to hold up the snake of cars behind him as best he could, and at one point evoked memories of the race in Azerbaijan when he slowed dramatically, temporarily allowing Vettel to pull alongside him. The Mercedes driver staved off the subsequent attack from the restart and went on to claim a relatively comfortable victory and close the championship gap once more to seven points.
Tensions heating up at Force India
Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon had clashed already this season, and were hardly the best of friends heading to Spa, but it’s fair to assume there would not have been much post-race chit-chat among the Force India boys in Belgium. Having banged wheels (and in Perez’s case) the wall on the run up to Eau Rouge on the opening lap, the Mexican decided he would show his younger teammate the armco later in the race as the Frenchman looked to pass. The result was front wing damage for the latter while the former limped round to the pits with a puncture. Ocon salvaged ninth place to move closer to Perez in the standings, but they won’t be spending much time around each other in person if the current rate of squabbling holds up.
A tale of two Red Bulls
If ever there was a season which justifies Daniel Ricciardo’s self-proclaimed tag as the ‘Honey Badger’ then perhaps 2017 has been it. The Australian has fought and scrapped his way through fields, keeping the Ferraris and Mercedes’ honest before pouncing on any mistakes to move in for the kill. When Kimi Raikkonen received a stop-go penalty and Valtteri Bottas ran wide in a fight between the three, Ricciardo was there to mop up the pieces and steal yet another podium. Max Verstappen meanwhile must be struggling to remember the last time he saw the chequered flag as another mechanical failure saw him fail to finish for the sixth time in twelve races this year. He now only has a fraction more than half the points of his teammate and with 67 points is a staggering 61 behind the top five.
Fernando Alonso is running out of patience
After the first lap of 44, Fernando Alonso was running 7th, quite literally the best of the rest behind the Ferraris, Mercedes’ and Red Bulls. 25 laps later he was back in the garage, un-strapping himself from his McLaren after suffering yet another mechanical failure. He had been dropping quickly through the field after relinquishing seventh place and at one point became so frustrated that he told his engineer he simply ‘did not care’ about the race situation around him. Word in the paddock over the weekend was that Williams are ready to offer him a way out of McLaren for next year. It would be probably still be far from a car the Spaniard’s raw talents would deserve to challenge for a third world title, but right now you have to feel he would take anything in 2018.
Two-horse title race
What was already fair to assume can now almost be stated as fact. Bottas’ two victories, coupled with Hamilton and Vettel tripping over each other had potentially paved the way for a three-way duel for the championship. Hopes were raise yet further in Hungary when Hamilton moved over to let the Finn claim third at the final corner. Bottas’ fifth place finish compared to Hamilton’s win means the gap between the two in the standings is now 34 points, with 41 the gap to Vettel at the top, and either the Briton or the German will lift this year’s crown at the end of the season.
Formula 1 returns with the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, 1-3 September.
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